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[Newsmaker] Anti-refugee sentiment flares up on Cheong Wa Dae petitions

Cheong Wa Dae’s online petition system is once again making headlines with petitions calling for tougher regulations on refugees rapidly gaining traction.

The online public petition system is promoted by the Moon Jae-in administration and top presidential aides respond to petitions that gain more than 200,000 signatures within one month.

The latest petition to attract over 200,000 supporters demands the government to revise the law on refugees and the visa waiver program for Jeju, following the recent influx of Yemini refugees to the island. 

Yemeni Passport (Embassy of Yemen)
Yemeni Passport (Embassy of Yemen)

The petition, posted on June 13, claims that while European and other developed nations have a historical responsibility to refugees, Korea has no such obligations, and claims that allowing refugees in will fuel social problems. This petition is the second of its kind to gain tens of thousands of signatures, following a similar petition that was deleted by Cheong Wa Dae.

Cheong Wa Dae deleted the petition which was posted on June 12 and gained some 150,000 signatures, over the use of language inciting bias. The deleted petition claimed that those of Islamic faiths do not consider women as equals, and that allowing Yemeni refugees will inevitably lead to rise in sex crimes.

According to Cheong Wa Dae all petitions are treated according to regulations.

Over 500 Yemeni nationals have arrived in Jeju in recent weeks, and the vast majority of them have applied for refugee status, capitalizing in on Jeju’s visa waiver program. 

A petition calling for tougher refugee regulations on Cheong Wa Dae website. Cheong Wa Dae website capture
A petition calling for tougher refugee regulations on Cheong Wa Dae website. Cheong Wa Dae website capture

As part of measures to boost tourism to Jeju, tourists arriving in the southern island are allowed to stay for 30 days without a visa. Those who apply for refugee status are allowed to remain in Korea while their applications are being processed.

Although applicants are only allowed to seek jobs if the review process exceeds six months, Jeju immigration authorities lifted the limit for industries experiencing manpower shortages.

The step, intended as a humanitarian measure, has incited strong backlash from some members of the public, leading to numerous petitions ranging from expression of concern to extreme claims.

Nearly 400 petitions that include the word “refugee” can be found on Cheong Wa Dae’s website, many of which call for tougher regulations, claiming that the presence of refugees expose Koreans to violent crimes.

There are, however, a small number of petitions calling on the government to take in refugees, citing Korea’s rising status in the international community.

There are also a large number of petitions making extreme claims, including one that calls for refugees to be executed. Another petition requests the official responsible for deleting an earlier petition on rejecting Yemeni refugees to be removed from office.

While supporters of the refugee-related petitions appear serious in their concern for safety, the Cheong Wa Dae petition system is known to have been abused, and subjected to public ridicule.

Despite the government’s well-meaning intentions, the system has been abused by those who make extreme and unrealistic demands.

Examples of such petitions include one that demanded a high-level government officials to be castrated, while another suggested President Moon Jae-in marry his son to North Korea’s Kim Yo-jong. In another case, a petition demanded that a well-known K-pop star be executed for supporting a minor internet celebrity’s allegations of sexual assault.

By Choi He-suk (
catch table
Korea Herald daum